John Tusa

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Tusa in 2010

Sir John Tusa (born 2 March 1936) is a British arts administrator, and radio and television journalist. He is co-chairman of the European Union Youth Orchestra from 2014. chairman, British Architecture Trust Board, RIBA, from 2014. From 1980 to 1986 he was a main presenter of BBC 2's Newsnight programme. From 1986 to 1993 he was managing director of the BBC World Service. From 1995 to 2007 he was managing director of the City of London's Barbican Arts Centre.

Early life[edit]

Born in Zlín, Czechoslovakia,[1] in March 1936, Tusa moved to England with his family in 1939. His father, also John Tusa (Jan Tůša), was managing director of British Bata Shoes, established by the Czechoslovak shoe company, which, following its international pattern, also created a pioneering work-living community around its factory in East Tilbury, Essex. Two days before the German occupation of Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939, Tusa senior flew out of Czechoslovakia on a Bata company plane, via Poland, Yugoslavia and France. He then became general manager of the Bata factory and its associated village in East Tilbury, living in the nearby village of Horndon-on-the-Hill where his son grew up.[2]

Tusa junior was educated at St Faith's School, Cambridge, Gresham's School, Holt, and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he gained a first class degree in History.[3]


In 1960, he joined the BBC as a trainee. After presenting the BBC's 24 Hours and later Newsnight (from its inception in 1979), he became managing director of the BBC World Service from 1986 to 1993. Tusa was President of Wolfson College from January to October 1993. He was then a newsreader on BBC's One O'Clock News for two years during the mid-1990s. He anchored the BBC's coverage of the D-Day 50th anniversary celebrations in June 1995, and of the Hong Kong handover on 30 June 1997. From 1995 until 2007 he was managing director of the Barbican Arts Centre in the City of London. For several years, he was chairman of the board of the Wigmore Hall in London and was appointed chairman of the University of the Arts London in 2007. For many years he sat on the governing Council of Imperial College London on which strength was then offered vice-chancellor positions at Reading and then York University. But Tusa was first and foremost a journalist; he decided that he did not have the financial expertise. In 1987 he had been rejected for the position of Director-General of the BBC for the same reason. He was announced as having accepted the position of chairman with the Victoria and Albert Museum on 18 June 2007, but stepped down from the post a month later, recognising a conflict of interest with his position at the University of the Arts London. In 2013, it was announced that Tusa would be leaving his post at University of the Arts London from August that year, and that Sir John Sorrell CBE would be the new chairman.

Tusa continues to write and broadcast widely. He has written two books jointly with his historian wife Ann Tusa: The Nuremberg Trial (1983) and The Berlin Blockade (1988). His writings on the arts include Art Matters, On Creativity, and The Janus Aspect: Artists in the C20.

John Tusa's Engaged with the Arts: Writings from the Frontline was published in 2007.[4] It explores ways that the arts can be encouraged within a cultural and political climate in which funding is constantly under threat.

Since his retirement from his BBC World Service post, John Tusa has been critical of some BBC policies. He deprecated the former director general John Birt's focus and management style and has been vociferous about subsequent decisions to pare down World Service activities in Europe, including the Czech section.[5]

From January 2009 to 2014, Tusa was chair of the Clore Leadership Programme.

From 2000 until 2005, Tusa interviewed 55 major figures in the arts for BBC Radio 3.

From October 2009 until the end of the year Tusa presented a 91-part series on BBC Radio 4. Day By Day used original archive news material to track events on a daily basis from 1989, including the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In February 2010 he became honorary chairman of In 2014, he became co-chairman of the European Union Youth Orchestra.

Tusa is a strong defender of spending on the arts and argues that cuts in arts funding do more harm than good.


Tusa received an honorary doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 1993[6]

Tusa was awarded a knighthood in the Queen's birthday honours list in June 2003.

Tusa was awarded an Honorary Silver Medal of Jan Masaryk in September 2018.[7][8]


Conversations with the World; BBC Books 1990

A World in Your Ear; Broadside Books 1992

Art Matters; Methuen 1999

On Creativity; Methuen 2003

The Janus Aspect; Methuen 2005

Engaged with the Arts; IB Tauris 2007

Pain in the Arts; [1] IB Tauris 2014

Making a Noise: Getting It Right, Getting It Wrong in Life, Arts and Broadcasting; W&N 2018

Co-author – with Ann Tusa:

The Nuremberg Trial; Macmillan 1983

The Berlin Blockade; Hodder and Stoughton 1988.


  1. ^ Bata (shoe) company history website which includes biographical paragraph on Tusa whose father was a senior Bata employee
  2. ^ Lecture by John Tusa Archived 8 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "John Tusa". BBC News. 29 January 2004.
  4. ^ Published by I.B. Tauris, London & New York, February 2007. ISBN 978-1-84511-424-4
  5. ^ "Czech Business Weekly". Archived from the original on 25 November 2005. Retrieved 6 March 2006.
  6. ^ "Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh: Honorary Graduates". Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  7. ^ "Resumes of recipients of the Silver Medal of Jan Masaryk" (PDF).
  8. ^ "Stříbrná medaile Jana Masaryka".
Media offices
Preceded by
Austen Kark
Director of External Broadcasting, BBC
Succeeded by
Sam Younger
Academic offices
Preceded by President of Wolfson College, Cambridge
January—October 1993
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chairman of the University of the Arts London
Succeeded by
Sir John Sorrell CBE